Portuguese researchers Marcos Gomes and João Peça, at the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology of the University of Coimbra (CNC-UC), participated in an international pioneer study, published today in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, that deepens our knowledge about the thalamus – an important brain region.
Led by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) researchers, this study focused on the “thalamic reticular nucleus”, a region which is thought to be involved in cognition, sensorial processing, attention, and sleep regulation. Alterations in this nucleus “are associated to neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopment alterations, such as schizophrenia, autism, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD). However, despite its importance, little is still known about the properties of this region, as well as the characteristics of the neurons that compose it”, explain both researchers and co-authors of the study published in Nature.
The work produced, for the first time, an atlas of the thalamic reticular nucleus, where it has the electrophysiological and gene expression properties of thousand individuals cells, allowing researchers to identify “a populational gradient and two types of previously unknown neurons. These “new neurons” were named Spp1+ and Ecel1+, and were shown to have a fundamental, but distinct, role in sleep regulation”, highlight Marcos Gomes and João Peça.
The contribution of the CNC-UC team allowed the identification of the tridimensional organization of “new” Spp1+ and Ecel1+ neurons, which led to a more detailed comprehension of this nucleus.
“The results of this research mean a more important step in the mapping of mammal brain, contributing to a better understanding of thalamic architecture”, affirms João Peça, also faculty body of the Life Sciences Department of the Faculty of Sciences and Technology of the University of Coimbra.
“Among other aspects, our study demonstrated an organization in layers in the populations of this nucleus, and identifies the electrophysiological and functional properties of each neuronal group”, adds Marcos Gomes, student at the Experimental Biology and Biomedicine PhD program.
The developed approaches within this work allowed the “functional characterization of the circuits, giving out crucial clues in the comprehension, not only in sleep disorders, but also among several neurodevelopment diseases. This because, with the knowledge of the unique properties of neurons that make up this brain region, it opens up doors in the design of strategies and therapies to reestablish the normal function in disease processes”, conclude both researchers.
Credits: Cristina Pinto, João Cardoso, João Peça, Marcos Gomes